HISP 471GG: Graves & Burial Grounds

Course Outline

Graves and burial grounds dot the landscape in America as elsewhere. While funerary sites are ubiquitous, understanding of them lags behind. Many people do not think of graves when considering the built environment. Perhaps because of a discomfort with death, cemeteries are not regularly visited and can as a result end up in disrepair.

This course will introduce students to the history of graves and burial grounds. Particular attention will be paid to changes in symbols, locations, layout, materials, and wording over time. Funerary practices will be connected to contemporary developments in art, culture, and technology. Finally, students will learn the challenges in preserving these sites today, and develop strategies to accomplish this.

Course Objectives

  • Provide an overview of burial practices in the United States from Colonial times to the present.
  • Foster an understanding of symbols and designs in gravestones.
  • Encourage interest and involvement in the preservation of funerary sites.

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Students will be able to identify funerary monuments from different time periods and geographies.
  • Students will be able to analyze and interpret symbols and text on gravestones.
  • Students will be able to apply knowledge from HISP 101 regarding architectural features to funerary contexts.

Disability Information, Grading Scale & Instructor Policies


Meyer, Richard. (ed.) Cemeteries & Gravemarkers: Voices of American Culture. Utah State University Press: 1992.

Sloane, David. The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History. Johns Hopkins University Press: 1991.

Course Requirements

Graded Course Requirements Due Date Weight
Class Participation All Semester 25%
Mid-term Examination Oct 9 25%
Project Proposal Oct 23 15%
Project Presentation Dec 4 10%
Project Dec 10 25%

Course Schedule

WEEK 1 – AUG 28
Course Introduction & Gravestone Design I

WEEK 2 – SEP 4
History I: Colonial America & Funerary Myths
Reading: Sloane, Chapter 2

WEEK 3 – SEP 11
History II: The Picturesque & Materials
Reading: Meyer, Chapter 12

WEEK 4 – SEP 18
History III: The Garden Cemetery & Administration
Reading: Sloane, Chapter 7

WEEK 5 – SEP 25
Funerary Design: Architecture, Iconography & Epitaphs
Reading: Meyer, Chapter 4

WEEK 6 – OCT 2
Virtual Site Visit: Richmond & “Find Your Own”
Reading: browse https://www.hollywoodcemetery.org

WEEK 7 – OCT 9

WEEK 8 – OCT 16
Preservation of Cemeteries & Case Studies
Guest Lecturer: Jessica Ugarte, VDHR
Reading: Preservation Brief 48

WEEK 9 – OCT 23

WEEK 10 – OCT 30
Site Visit: Fredericksburg Cemeteries

WEEK 11 – NOV 6
Work Session & Feedback

WEEK 12 – NOV 13
Monument Conservation
Guest Lecturer: Katherine Ridgway, VDHR
Reading: TBA

WEEK 13 – NOV 20
Modern Burial Practices/Reusing Cemeteries & Gravestone Design (redux)
Reading: TBA

WEEK 14 – NOV 27

WEEK 15 – DEC 4

WEEK 16 – DEC 10